(Photo: Patrick Brayer)

He started out as Prince Charming, roused her from thunder, I mean slumber.

Dick Barnes (California’s greatest poet)

They say you can’t believe a dream, and then they turn right around and tell you that life is but a dream. As in all good stories, even mocking truth, it depends on who in tarnation ‘they’ are. I woke the other day fresh from a dream wherein  I was backing a big yellow school bus out of our driveway here on 5th street.  I felt huge anxiety at first but then was amazed at how it just floated effortlessly. I somehow knew instinctively that I was waiting for a primered old Ford that would be coming westward like a flat grey nickel, and when I saw it I should go the opposite direction (to where no one knows). Sure enough there it was, so I floated out, but it was at an impossible angle and the only option was to follow the Ford in anti-obedience. I decided then  to just circle around the block, hanging a turn north towards the San Gabriel Mountains, and then swing back, since I didn’t know where I was going in the first place. Circling around, then pointed east in my loop, I came to the front of my daughter’s elementary school, which is across the street from our house on the far side in real life. When I got there there was a dirt shoulder which is not there in reality, but was wide enough to park the bus, so I thought I would just leave it there so as to not block our driveway. Leaving it in front of a school seemed reasonable.

Another thing of interest was that when I left the house it was sunny outside, and then when I drove around the block it was nighttime. I got out, put a padlock on the door to the curbside rear of the bus, clicked it shut before realizing that I had locked my keys and my wallet inside. I then entered the schoolyard.  I assume I was planning to cross the campus in short-cut fashion and hop the fence in front of our house. I closed the campus gate and then I saw the lights of a dirty white car pull up behind the school bus.  A man got out and in the warmth of the car-light, moths taking action in the beams, he began to pick the lock on the bus door. He seemed to be having an argument between himself and the lock that wafted over to me in a swampy debatable patois that matched the clouds, with the writhing neon-gray cheeked faces of long-forgotten gods. I then recognized the man as a friend I actually knew from Foley, Alabama who had likewise stringy hair, glasses with coke bottle density, and a patented shit-eating grin. But then I realized, as if waking up from a dream in a dream, that his intentions were nefarious, that it was not the real him, and I was then further a’feared accordingly. In dream-style anxiety, the fence which had now grown to twenty-feet tall, was covered in that tennis court mesh, which in the boxed-in darkness made it appear prison-like and difficult to see through. I yelled at the man, hoping to scare him away, but then he began to climb the fence after me, shackle sounding, as I began to run, huffing and looking for any fence short enough to climb into an awakened state. I like the old adage once told, from when a man offered up his dream and then asked a realist upon completion what he thought it might mean. His voice of reason response was, ”It meant you were sleeping”.

Songwriting is just a manner of drilling for oil into the bedrock of a dream. What you come up with can either make you diamond-rich, gold-toothed in a crisp white Stetson, or make the biggest mess imaginable, leaving you swimming in quicksand, or dinosaur pudding. I once had a songwriter comrade who had a business card that boasted, “Helping mediocrity to admire itself for half a century”. And you want to do this for a living? No wonder no one knows what to do with you. On the other hand, you could come out of the experience exactly the same as going in, unchanged. In that case, go crack a beer and rejoice, you are the very son of a father of the average man, in other words, the salt of the earth. You are not built for such compensative foolishness. We are all still to be reckoned with, like the enormity of planets reflected in a horse’s eye. Proving that we are much more than our lizard-skinned contract with death, it with its miles of small print at the bottom.

The author, pictured here in before and after style, him in 1972 with at least an ounce of hope in his eyes, graduating from Fontana High School with a single day of college in his future. The other image is how as he appears today, trying as he might to remember the lost chord.

The form of the haiku poem was invented by a man trying to eat an apple while scribbling a poem. He mistakenly began to dictate the red specks of the fruit while taking a big bite out of the poem.

When I finally write my masterpiece it will begin: I swung out of the White Colt Cafe door unto a sky the color of a dead man. That scenario will most likely then involve the playing out of a cow-brains tamale dinner and ceramic pail of burn-pile tasting coffee. It will no doubt reverberate with the ruminations of an over-educated but dowdy waitress, her sexuality sky rocketing through her uniform, she who lost her virginity five minutes prior in a janitor closet, all the while, multi-tasking, mop bucket for a heart, crying over the terminal diagnosis of her golden retriever, Ned. There was a tainted polaroid of the waitress and her dog taped to the dull copper cash register, one of  them had a frisbee in its mouth. In the Noah’s arc of my career I would then go on to pen ten kurt but sweet novellas all with two things in common. One, them all being set in the punchable haze of the Pomona Valley, a cultural clash of diversity, that like the rarified smog, is there whether spoken of or not. A clutch of rural towns, like roadside farts severed by the Interstate 10 on joyous route to Palm Springs playgrounds, where your pill-white belt and shoes finally made sense. Secondly on the list, being that every character in the book ends up the polar opposite of the person that they enter as from the gravity-defying curtain’s rising.  For instance, the porn star devil-worshipping bank-robber from Honolulu, steel shavings for whiskers, becomes in the finale, criss-crossing the talons of the pages, a teetotalling clergyman in the hollows of a crotch-sweat infested Arkansas, while the housewife on the other hand, who never had a man besides her own husband, a vacuum cleaner ‘salesman of the year’ recipient, her ending up finally, the novel running out of rent money, in a dirt parking lot sandwiched between a feed store and a bullet-riddled beerhall. A biker gang gestured with devil-eyed cigarettes, whittling matchsticks to pick their amber teeth, awaiting, as if standing in the unemployment line, their turns at her willingness married by starlight. From the sky it appeared a rosary of misspent humanity, she still sweating from the hardwood dance floor, there where fate and conclusion meet in the storm-drain confines of an abandoned Ford Fiesta the earned faded color of antique pomegranate, a crystal icing of dew defining its roof, here reborn a boudoir. My final book on its closing pages pictures the ghost of a friend of mine, having recently passed away, in another dream sequence, retreating from my vision without ever moving his legs, limbs which in cargo shorts looked as to have never seen the sun, white marble colonnades, a big mustache, yoke colored at the edges from the likes of Redman chew, and wearing a humorously huge pale muslem shirt twisting in congress with the wind, as if in revelation he might have been a Viking clipper ship in another life, ankle-high in a paragraph, so naturally was he saying goodbye like a mere turnstyle of pages. 

“I  want to keep everything as if it were on the very brink of parody, making my way along a narrow ridge between my own truth and a caricature of it.” (Vladimir Nabokov / 1937  / The Gift)

A writer almost never likes to hear that the reader doesn’t have a clue what you’re on about.  So when one claims their writing is self-therapy, might it just be the crying out in turnaround that he or she admits that they well might better need to be seized by the well-earned lariat of a straight jacket. The true artists are the super insane, we would love them but they are above showing up, and are above the game. So we are to settle for the mortally insane, them we can inflate with power, but really just push around at our will. Writing for a smattering of decades, I’ll admit, in no way makes one innocent in the first degree. Can or will one’s voice rear up and take a vow of chastity? The subject here in this piece will be centered around the small portion of songs I’ve written over the past years that were culled from assorted local news sources, and others from the storyline of personal connection. Although it is impossible in my overall work to completely avoid the pallor of the autobiographical, I’ve noticed over the years that I have purposely steered farther and farther away from such as that. One of my key techniques of late, which doesn’t necessarily apply to any of the work addressed here in this sub-genre, but does the art of process, is to take someone I know and through my imagination put them through the paces of a dreamt scenario, thus allowing, in my opinion, the implementation of my friends as actors, unbeknownst to them, helping to attain a soulfulness and believable closeness otherwise unattainable, whilst all the time we hear in the kitchen the larceny of the pots and pans. 

photo: Patrick Brayer

Saving the Dust for Last

Back in September 25, 1987 there was a local San Bernardino Valley news story that caught my attention on an Inland Empire level.

It read:

RIALTO — A massive explosion at a fireworks plant, apparently detonated by a distraught husband committing suicide, hurled chunks of concrete the size of television sets over more than a square mile before dawn Friday.

Two other people were injured–neither seriously–when the blast leveled the Celebrity Fireworks Co. plant in the barren, largely undeveloped scrubland on the northwestern edge of this San Bernardino County town.

The word of mouth about the incident that was circulating at the time (1987) was that he, 24-year-old Eric William Garcia, called his wife from the fireworks factory that he worked at just down the road. Then asking her to look out her window towards the factory, and as they spoke he detonated a sky-high explosion, killing himself and leveling the plant.  I always thought that that story had a hard-scrabble Shakespearian edge to it and vowed to consider to someday frame it in song.  I finally got around to it some thirty years later, did some research to un-fog my memory, and began to take on poetical license in mythological terms, and as is my process, letting the story tell its unfolded self, mixing the depth of the dream-state with reality. Bare me on the birth of dawn. Then and there a song was born, Saving the Dust for Last (SHV59).

After writing songs for near fifty years now I have worn many metaphoric velvetine hats, writing from about every angle, style, and vantage I could garner, all except perhaps the one that makes you in any way popular with the general public. Over the years and into the balance of the evening, no stranger to fiction, I have jotted down stories that churned in my head like weasels tangling in a pillowcase pleading for escape. In an attempt to shape, and or, control my world, I have come to realize that since there is no true beginning to being, beyond hypothesis, that reality was just the stepchild of fiction, which to tell the truth can’t help but misspell your name. Another well I liked to draw from was local news sources, social rags, like Fontana’s, Herald News, and San Bernardino’s, Sun Telegram. 

From a newspaper article on November 2, 1992, I wrote another song, Angel Fear (SHV8), which was written about a news event wherein a man, William Marconda, from Fontana, after an argument with his wife, goes to Apple Valley, steals a Cessna 152 airplane from Midfield Aviation, flies back to buzz his wife’s house, and then, because this is Fontana, runs out of gas and crashes on main street.  These are to me the kinds of incidents that are crying to be mythologized in story form, turning cold blue facts into the lobbing of smoke-rings into thought. 

Another one entitled, Juventino (SHV49), was about a man, Juventino Vallejo-Camarena, who on October 9, 2005 along Shell Road in Montclair, attempted to hijack a Union  Pacific locomotive on route to Salt Lake City, claiming the train belonged to him. He was at the time wearing a tiara and brandishing a bow and arrow that he had fashioned from roadside sticks and weeds. 

A memorial manipulation i produced in honor of my friend Ray Collins.

These characters to me are my culture, as if a movie flung from a book, the spontaneous earthly jewels of the human condition, and I try, using the pigment of words and music, to crawl into their momentary skin, if not for warmth, then for earthen validation.  Then as if in Picasso’s blue period, I over the same span of years penned a collection of requiem funeral song-scape portraits of cherished friends. One of those songs, World Without Ray, Amen (SHV56), was a tribute to a friend, Ray Collins, who was famously a founding member of The Mothers of Invention (with Frank Zappa), and whom in 2012 I found, in finality, comatose in his van in front of a library in Claremont, California. Collins, as the song states, went all the way from performing at the famed Albert Hall in London to occupying a park bench in Claremont, where he lived in his Chevy Astro, sporting a long grandfatherly white beard, and served there for a number of years stoically as the unofficial town-greeter, unbeknownst to himself, of The Village, with its dazzling array of Folk Music Museums, trust fund scholastics, and the refurbished and transient transformations of lemon packing houses.

here’s a link to an entire post I did concerning World Without Ray, Amen / https://patrickjohnbrayer.wordpress.com//?s=collins&search=Go 

Parakeets watch him from the bare nerves of the garden. He harvests before the worms that eat his father turn into demons.

Valzhyna  Mort (Minsk poet)

Another story song, The Ballad of Kay Kanaki (SHV52), was the tale of an acquaintance who disappeared on April 11, 1986. It was a story that I wove together from interviews I did with those who knew him.  It remains to this day mysterious and secretly hush-hush.  My take includes rumors of a drug deal gone awry, dead-end biker motives, white supremacy, and the sought-after recipe, a pirate’s mapping to Stephen Hawkings’ caleber crank. As an aside to the racial climate of the day I’ll point out that Kay was the sole Asian at our school in the steel mill town of Fontana. We all lived in the same neighborhood, him near Juniper, our family on Date St., both localities in the vicinity of Topps Market, where we often spent our lunch money on baseball cards and Red Vine licorice sustenance.  I was always envious of him, as a math genius with no homework, and the roar of his flashy dirt bike, a Bultaco as I recollect. Today looking back I don’t know where I got the nerve to invade upon people’s lives on the borrowed wings of a fairly fragile occupation, no awards assuring me I’m on the right track, no money saying please don’t die of hunger in your toil, left covered in invisible blood. I’m as down on myself as the next guy and I accept that, for myself, as natural (nature). I can truly say that anything that I brought back with me from the depths of these mind adventures I’ve tried to share, holding nothing back, without choice, unapologetic to trusting the voices, to doing as little editing as possible, to keep the narrative as far away from this earth as possible, leaving as much residue of that nameless heaven clutching upon it. A ruffled richness pervades every thought of escape, the beauty of the old days, the backfire of driving away in a Volkswagen pumpkin carriage. The shadows that congregate at my writing desk scissor at the change of corn colored light, and now the fight is fought in earnest, now, and in a new age wherein my entire life’s work fits on a thumb drive. Let us never forget that the fir tree does not take the amorously toothed chainsaw personally.  So then who are we to?

Robin Shirley and Patrick Brayer probably being told to shut up back in the 60’s on Boxwood Street.

I co-wrote yet another event with a friend I went to Catholic kindergarten with, Robin Shirley, whose mother Shirley Shirley was in the first graduating class at Fontana High School, which originated in 1952. The song was called Crazy Donna (SHV15), and it told about Robin’s aunt and how she lived at the tail end days of the ironically dilapidated Hollywood Motel on a Fontana truck route, up until the final day when she stepped before a moving train to put a halt to life’s ills. She one time brought two warm Burgies out to us on the gravel parking lot as we glanced up to her to the sound of crickets, a foundry gold sunset, and the seismic ticking of an overheated engine. If heroes come in all colors, why then reinvent the rainbow?

Bill Bergan home from a day at the steelmill in the 70’s, following proudly in his father’s footsteps. Photo credit: Rob Powell

In 2005 I recorded the instrumental soundscape Bill Bergan 1954-2005 (SHV48) in honor of the subject’s friendship.  I used the last answering machine message I had received from him that Christmas, putting it to play on a loop while I added pedal steel guitar on another track. I liken its sound as to that of John Cage blocking your driveway. Whenever we finished a bottle of whiskey, Bill, a big Thor Viking of a man, would always like to toast to its emptiness by quoting Clifford Odettes, “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river”, the line targeted at you through a cloud of filterless Camel cigarette haze, with a hearty conspiring laugh.

I jokingly call my songs threats, and that it is my job on earth to help keep my friends vertical. If you don’t eat right, exercise, and keep yourself alive, the first thing I’m going to do is write a sappy song about you, it dripping with all the type of embarrassment that only melancholy can claim ownership. Surmising, in crescendo, that you have to be alive to hide.  I liken the process to being awoken by a whistle, and it’s not a human whistle, it’s not either a train approaching a station in a nightgown of fog. I have an even deeper sense now that it’s something that probably shouldn’t be whistling in the first place.

Photo: Patrick Brayer / Picture is the Fontana Inn, a honky tonk in town where I had the fortune to witness the likes of both Ernest Tubb and Merle Travis. I showed up early in the day to meet Tubb at his bus. A band member answered the bus door only to inform me that ET couldn’t be disturbed during his soap operas. That right there should have told me what I had up ahead of me in the music business. I also got to see George Jones not show up. But I did get to hear, “One Last Drink and Then Another”, on the jukebox. Merle Travis was booked twice. One time he didn’t show up, I later heard that some friends had spotted this old guy in a suit with rhinestone bluebirds sewn on it come into The Four Question Marks bar out by the mill, order two double shots of Maker’s Mark and an order of frog legs and entertained the patrons with tall tales long into the night. I wouldn’t call that a no-show. Why shouldn’t performers perform where they’re most comfortable.

So where is Eric William Garcia today? Is he living within the foolscap pages of the song I wrote, or at the tender heart of his own statement, giving Rialto (the town that Raymond Chandler re-named Realito in his hard-boiled masterwork, The Big Sleep) along with the Celebrity Fireworks Co. the royal NASA treatment.  I never met the man. So is my pen to blame? Can I envision his wife on that day, the event turned to a tinsel-town dream sequence, Vaseline smeared on the lens, trading night for day as she emerges from the steam of the shower naked, swirling a black towel like a bullfight, padding out to answer the phone and gazing out the window with the far off face of an explorer, her breasts young and beautiful, before and after tears fell their way? Why the eroticism angle? Because all things of the imagination that are honest are made up of the frayed envy of our desire. We are all fodder for the beauty that is always cleverly stowed away in every stock minimum-wage tragedy. It’s almost too much for us to face, like death itself, to acknowledge that the supreme reason for us being here is just to reproduce. It’s like breathing. It doesn’t have to nor need be taught. Simply said, face it, without the electricity of the erotic, none of us would be here today to honor it nor to, on the other hand, self righteously gripe. Don’t we all, in our minds put these character flaws in a house of our own creation, a shrine to bad architecture, anemic wallpaper, summoning in at the screen door a soot-black dog with a foggy eye, unmistakably we project in Vin Skully’s voice? All this queued to the devilish nose-dive music of a father cuffing a son in a side-yard, the soundtrack of peripheral barnyard sounds caromed through the eucalyptus trees just down the way, and as witness to an old tire serving as a planter, highlighting where a mummy-colored hydrangea once tried and failed. Come to life! You don’t need to meet someone to write about them, like you don’t need the permission of the couch to change the channel. The story has already been given a clean telling a thousandfold long before. It doesn’t need come out line by line, it will come intact, we just need seduce it out. What do we all fight about if not love or money? We tend to like to think that we are complicated, but we’re not. Love, no matter how carnally twisted, it being why we are here, super-exists while we use paper money to bookmark the many pages of our denial, always then halting dead in its tracks dumbfounded at what it can’t afford. All this in the name of the 4th of July, with its clown-colored firecracker-ship, and an American flag with its slices of blood. Which leads us full-circle right back to Eric William Garcia picking up his phone from a blithe pedestal of cinder block, he and I, both of our hands trembling as if in strum.  

(photo: Patrick Brayer)